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The Good Die First

By Lieut. Frank Kent

Bud Hacken thought he could lick the whole Nazi air fleet. But when a brave man died to prove how wrong he was, he had to make up for his fatal mistake.

"IT'S murder! Just plain murder!"

Major Hank Lowder's tight face was a ragged scar in the half-light of the doghouse as the exclamation burst from his lips. His bushy brows seemed to droop over the icy slits of his restless eyes. His bristly blond hair was parted by a ghastly green groove where a machine gun slug had plowed its way through his scalp. The burn scars on his face, received when he had crashed with his engine on fire, glowed red even in the half-light.

He wasn't a lovely sight, and he knew it, but he didn't give a damn. Each time they'd patched him up, they'd said the scars would heal. Perhaps they would, if he lived long enough. But there were other kinds of scars inside—scars that would never heal.

The job of playing God over the destinies of mere striplings was more than they had a right to ask of him. The toughest sector on the front—Nazi squadrons like that of Gustaf Fahnk to reckon with. . . .

Lowder's big teeth ground together with a rasping sound, and his lean ?st kept striking the table sharply. With a mechanical movement of his long arm, he put the cognac bottle to his lips and drained it. Then he hurled the empty bottle against the far wall where it exploded in a shower of glass.

The damned job was getting him! Maybe Wing wasn't to blame. It was the system that was wrong. Why did they always send up the best men to be killed off first in a war? Why didn't they rake the country for cripples, lunatics, sub-normals and criminals, and send them off first to be slaughtered and maimed and ruined?

Lowder dreaded going out to meet the replacements due today. If he was honest, he'd tell them:

"You haven't got a chance! You can remember your maneuvers—you can point with pride to your records with the photo guns. You can pull the hair on your chest, if you have any, and make your big talk, but you're going to die. And the better you are, the quicker you go, because you'll have the nerve to hound Gustaf and his flyers, and they'll kill you. Maybe not today—or tomorrow—but they'll kill you!"

That's what he'd tell them if he was honest. Instead he'd have to go out there and vomit up a lot of trash about confidence, nerve, formation tactics and victory!

He rolled a fag, took a long pull, stabbed it out against his shabby desk as Lieutenant Reeves slammed in the door. Reeves boasted a wooden leg, and a shriveled arm, the result of a fierce attack against a bombing squadron the first day of the war. He had been one of the first contingent of the 92nd, and between him and Major Lowder existed that bond which strong men create among themselves.

Reeves had earned a discharge with glory, but he had refused to go, and Lowder had gotten him assigned to the 92nd on special duty.

Now Reeves grinned, as though he was a little ashamed of what he was doing. The thick throat that supported his bullet head seemed to gulp over the words.

"The new batch of goslings is ready for your inspection, Major. Fine lookin' bunch of lads—for the boy scouts!" Then, noticing the haggard look on Lowder's face, added quickly, "You want I should feed 'em that old hooey?"

"I'll see them myself," Lowder said warily, and kicked back his chair.

He moved like a gaunt skeleton worked with wires as he walked across the tarmac. Reeves limped behind him, having difficulty in keeping up with him.

The four gleaming rookies were pictures of sartorial splendor. Shiny leather—neat serge—polished brass. With his worn, unpolished boots, with his shirt thrown open at the throat and his sleeves rolled up, Lowder made a grim contrast to the eager kids.

For a long minute he stood on spraddled legs and stared at them. There was something familiar about the blond, gawky kid on the left of the line. Lowder turned his eyes away from them, and made his talk.


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